Under the sponsorship of the SME Development Fund, the Hong Kong Brand Development Council is joining forces with the Chinese Manufacturers Association of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong polytechnic University to implement a project, namely “Branding for Returns: The Path to Strong Brands for SMEs” Research and Training Project. The 15-month Project commenced on 1 October 2009 and it aims to equip SMEs with state-of-the-art knowledge and management skills, helping them to pave the way for strong brands.
Today, many SMEs in Hong Kong are striving to build strong brands. They have realized that building brand equity would enable them to achieve higher consumer loyalty and superior financial returns, which in turn brings more benefits to the community and whole society. At the same time, the introduction of new labor laws in Mainland, sharp increase in the cost of raw materials and energy, as well as the appreciation of RMB, have led to the unrelenting escalation of cost pressure on Hong Kong companies' operations in China. More and more SME CEOs have recognized it will be more difficult to rely on cost advantage to compete in both the China and global market. The only solution is to cultivate differential advantage to deliver greater values to customers, and branding is definitely a choice of this kind.
However, most SMEs in Hong Kon lack a clear understanding of the essence of brand building and still follow traditional, product-oriented approaches that place too much emphasis on marketing communications. As such, they might be able to create brand awareness in short-term but are less effective in enhancing brand experience, in cultivating brand preference and favorable brand-customer relationship, and in improving brand value in medium to long term. To ensure sustainable growth in brand equity and deliver the value desired by customers, SMEs need to employ rigorous brand planning and management protocols.
As a joint effort of the Hong Kong Brand Development Council, the Chinese Manufacturers Association of Hong Kong, and the Asian Centre for Brand Management of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the "Branding for Returns: The Path to Strong Brands for SMEs" Project adopts the "Holistic Brand Management Approach and Brand Equity Measurement System" to enable Hong Kong manufacturers and SMEs to build sustainable brand equity through the development and implementation of brand planning protocols that fit local and regional contexts in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The Project has been successfully obtained the sponsorship from the SME Development Fund.
"Holistic Brand Management Approach and Brand Equity Measurement System" is an innovative yet robustly tested framework. What makes this system distinctive from the conventional ones is that it requires a holistic approach to: a) developing brand strategy and managing brand design, b) conducting a brand audit, c) developing procedures to track brand performance to justify the return in investment in brand building activities; d) designing the management structure to ensure brand leadership within the firm and organizational-wide implementation of the brand plan; and e) crafting customers' brand experience with a focus on the values resulted from such experience.
The framework is developed within the business context of Hong Kong and mainland China, in particular the situations confronted by typical SMEs in Hong Kong. First, the brand performance and brand building efforts of more than 50 established brands in Hong Kong over a period of 3 years will be referenced; and rrepresentative cases on some 20 local SMEs that preferably have business operations in the Pearl River Delta will then be sampled to illustrate the practical challenges in brand creation and brand management encountered by SME decision makers in Hong Kong and China.
The unique characteristics of the China market and of the brand buying behavior of Chinese customers will be identified, and their implications for effective brand strategy and its execution will also be elaborated. The process also involves in-depth interviews and focus group discussions conducted with senior management and frontline staff from the sampled SMEs.
A series of training seminars will be held to facilitate decision makers from SMEs to acquire modern brand management knowledge and the skills in implementing and monitoring the "Brand Equity Measurement System" and share the experience learnt from those successfully transformed brands. Workshops will then be followed to allow seminar participants to construct brand-building proposals and discuss how to implement brand-planning protocols within their firms effectively. A book (with cases) will be produced to capture the findings of this project to allow greater audience from the SME sector to be benefited from this initiative.
In general, the Project will not only benefit Hong Kong SMEs especially our manufactures with operations in PRD, but also add value to Hong Kong’s knowledge reserve of brand management, thus giving a boost to the development of branding-related education, training and consultancy. The project deliverables include: